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COL Teachers are dedicated to learning

By Lynette Lenoch-Craft

Perspective is important going into the new school year. The Rochester Education Association attempted to innovate through a compensation plan we believed would have improved both teaching and learning. It is unfortunate that this plan will not go forward to the Minnesota Department of Education.

The Rochester Education Association was organized 85 years ago. It's safe to say that Rochester has seen many changes since 1921. There have been many changes in education as well.

Today there are approximately 1,100 REA members. Our membership includes licensed elementary, middle and high school regular education, special education and special area teachers; media specialists; occupational therapists; physical therapists; speech/language pathologists; psychologists; guidance counselors and social workers. These professionals are dedicated to providing a quality education to all students in the Rochester public schools.

Members of the REA are committed to the district's vision: Lifelong learning for all.

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I wonder how many of you realize that:

Thirty-five percent have earned a master's degree; 36 percent have earned 15, 30, or 45 credits beyond a master's degree; 1 percent has earned a doctorate; 54 have 10-20 years of experience; 18 percent have more than 20 years of experience.

The personal commitment to life-long learning and years of experience has benefited our students as indicated below:

Since 1991, there has been a 36 percent increase in the number of Rochester Public School students taking the ACT tests (during the same period of time, the increase nationwide was 15 percent and statewide, 8 percent).

Since 1991, our students have outperformed state and national ACT scores.

From 1996 to 2005, Rochester public schools students have exceeded the state average on the Minnesota Basic Skills Math Test, except for 2004 when we tied the state average.

From 1996 to 2005, Rochester public schools students have exceeded the state average on the Minnesota Basic Skills Reading Test -- no exceptions.

From 1999 to 2005, Rochester public schools students have exceeded the state average on the Minnesota Basic Skills Writing Test, except in 1999 and 2002 when we tied the state average.

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Based on the Stanford Achievement Test results, there is strong evidence that students who start and stay in our district receive a quality education and are well prepared for the next level. The community appreciates our hard work and dedication to students and their families. We do a remarkable job with the youths who enter our classrooms and we can provide the data to back that up.

Having said that, we also realize we need to do things differently to address the achievement gap. As a result, many REA members have attended conferences, conventions, workshops and/or participated in professional learning communities in an effort to address the needs of all students. You can be assured that we support the district's effort to put a qualified teacher in every classroom.

Our students deserve no less. The Post-Bulletin recently published extensive coverage about teacher salaries and the attempt to change the plan by which we are compensated, known as an alternative teacher professional pay plan. Much discussion wrapped around our salary structure, steps and lanes. I wonder how many people know that steps and lanes were created by school districts (not teachers) as a means to be able to control and predict compensation.

In many ways, steps and lanes are a form of deferred compensation because they require teachers to serve a long time before reaching a professional salary level. According to the National Association of Colleges, in 1989-1990, the Minnesota average teacher salary ranked 14th and was above the U.S. average by $829.

In 2004-2005, the Minnesota average teacher salary was ranked 16th and was $791 below the U.S. average salary.

In 1996-97 the beginning salary of a Minnesota teacher ranked 15th as compared to a ranking of 30th in 2003-2004.

Finally, from 1990-2005, Minnesota's per capita income increased by 64.69 percent as compared to an increase of 39.77 percent in the average Minnesota teacher's salary. I do wonder how the district will be able to attract and retain quality teachers if we continue to fall behind.

In spite of our disappointment in the school board's decision to deny our alternative teacher professional pay plan to go forward, we look forward to the 2006-2007 school year. We will be ready to provide the best possible education to the students who enter our classrooms. I have one request, however. When you see cars in school parking lots late at night or on the weekends just remember one thing -- the school board is not the only group connected to District 535 that "earns its pay."

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Lynette Lenoch-Craft is president of the Rochester Education Association.

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